It's not hyperbole to say that the 2010s thoroughly changed the way many people work. Because of advances in technology and shifting norms, more are working from home, in shared office spaces like WeWork (as long as those exist), and/or around the clock from their phones. Automation has done away with whole categories of professions, and the demands of a younger generation who see work as more than just the source of a paycheck have transformed the old cubicle farm into something that looks, on the surface at least, more like a summer camp.
That's the macro trend--and it was shaped by a whole bunch of micro trends. Here are 10 ways life in the office looked totally different during the 2010s. So grab a kombucha, all you ninjas, and meet me in Smurf Village for an all-team standup.
The War on Sitting
Remember desk chairs, those squeaky throwbacks our ignorant grandparents placed their bodies upon all day? In the 2010s, innovators tried valiantly to mitigate the risks of these death machines by waging a war on sitting. Balance balls moved from the gym (or the birthing center) to the workplace, strengthening cores and changing lives for the better. Likewise, balance boards went from novelty practice devices used by snowboarders to the standing-desk accessory of choice. And treadmill desks? Boy, did those keep nervous pacers on task. It turns out the negative effects of sitting are debatable (it depends on the studies you consult, of course), but that hasn't stopped inventors and trend forecasters from pushing replacements for the dependable old desk chair.
Clock In, Turn On, Drop Out
If you can remember the (micro) trend of micro-dosing, you weren't there, man. Led by the body hackers of Silicon Valley, where chewable cubes briefly replaced coffee and soy-based shakes replaced food, the movement involved taking extremely diluted doses of LSD for the purpose of boosting creativity and productivity. Somehow this supposed trend--honestly, I've never met anyone who has micro-dosed, and I know a ton of weirdos--seems to have existed more in news reports than in reality.
Sleep and Grow Rich
Remember when everyone was napping at work? When sleep pods replaced break rooms and the soothing sounds of snoring could be heard coming from the C-suites? No? You must not have had the good fortune of working for Arianna Huffington, who made snoozing central to Thrive, her post-HuffPost venture. Or Zappos, where the nap room resembles an aquarium and features a mural with the very ominous (and clearly not well understood) phrase "Sleeping with the fishes." (Fans of The Godfather know that Luca Brasi certainly felt rested when he slept with the fishes.)
Too Smart for the Room
You may have noticed this decade that every part of the office got a lot sillier, including conference rooms, which suddenly took on all sorts of clever names. Gone are the days of, "Let's meet in the conference room on the second floor" or "Mandatory meeting in the fishbowl." Now it's, "Let's talk in Bill Murray" (if you work at Buzzfeed) or, "I'm taking a private call in Dothraki Sea" (Instagram).
Open for Business
Way back in December 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an essay for The New Yorker called "Designs For Working" that made the case for open offices, which "exchange private space for public space." The idea grew in popularity as Gladwell went from journalist to "accidental guru," and by the 2010s, every company that wanted to be seen as creative or cutting edge had a bold, wide-open workspace. When Facebook's new headquarters opened in Menlo Park, California, in 2018, it was revealed to be one enormous room housing thousands of employees, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The open-office craze may have reached its peak in the headquarters of Barbarian Group, a New York City-based creative agency, which stations its entire team around a single 4,400-foot-table called the Superdesk that snakes around like a Hot Wheels track. By the decade's end, newer studies suggested that open offices aren't all they're cracked up to be. But the trend persists.
The Late Shift
Much of what goes on in the modern, connected workplace is no longer confined to business hours: In the 2010s, more and more of us went home and did more work during a de facto "night shift." This was due in part to the rise of smartphones and cheaper high-speed internet in the home, enabling workers to be as connected out of the office as they were in it. Working at all hours also followed many companies' loosening work-from-home policies, which allowed folks to leave early to pick up their kids or roll in late after calling in to early meetings. Flexibility is great, but it sometimes also means playing catch up during the quieter late night hours. For some folks, this works out fine. For others, less so. Because of tools like Slack (launched in 2013), work seeped out of the office and became a part of the rest of everyone's life, including their nights.
Seeing Is Believing
Speaking of Slack, the wildly popular office-communication platform helped further another workplace trend that rose in the 2010s: radical transparency. Inspired by Silicon Valley startups where openness and communication were considered virtues, smart companies could no longer support arcane hierarchies or allow for backchannel communications. Everything was being discussed in the open, even formerly taboo topics like profits, salaries, and mental health. Transparency definitely had the potential to improve the lives of some workers, including women who could know if their offices practiced wage discrimination, but others were less sure if sharing everything was wise. Most recently, an exposé of life inside Millennial-targeted luggage maker Away revealed that management discouraged private emails and Slack channels and that all conversations--including highly sensitive ones--were conducted in open channels for all to see, taking transparency to an extreme.
Mother of All Beverages
It's hard to say exactly when companies went crazy for kombucha, but before the 2010s, most offices managed to get by with a coffee maker and a drawer full of random tea bags. Airbnb's headquarters in San Francisco has kombucha taps scattered throughout, including streams of Redbnb, a housemade alternative to Red Bull. Even Goldman Sachs, no one's idea of a hip company, sports these trendy probiotic beverages on tap. By the end of the decade, kombucha taps became a symbol of companies' frivolous perks, or in the case of WeWork, shorthand for wasteful spending in the name of trendiness. Never liked chugging fizzy vinegar in the first place? No worries. Try the cucumber water or have the in-house barista pour you a flat white.
That's Senior Ninja to You
As everything work-related got more fun (or more "fun," depending on your point of view), job titles went from staid to silly. Who'd want to be a lame old senior accountant when they could be a "spreadsheet ninja"? A business card with the title "software engineer" began to lack the pizzazz of one emblazoned with "code rock star." That real rock stars are generally coddled, entitled, and rarely on time to sound check doesn't matter. Everyone this decade seemed to want a wacky job title, some including the words "guru," "genius," or "superhero." This trend reached its apex (or nadir) in the person of David "Shingy" Shing, AOL's "digital prophet." Shingy, whose career spanned a decade at the legacy internet company, left AOL toward the end of 2019, hopefully sunsetting his ridiculous job title with him.
Imagine if Don Draper hit the sauce too hard and passed out at his desk for, oh, about 60 years. The office world he'd wake up to would probably look like an entirely different playground than the kind he was used to. Indoor slides? Ubiquitous. Ball pit conference rooms? Surprisingly popular. Swings? Sure. Treehouses? Why not? Ping-pong tables look passé by comparison. It seems that in an effort to cultivate relaxed, inviting, creative spaces, many companies looked back to childhood and decided to turn their offices into play lands. That these whimsical spaces were designed to encourage employees to stick around for longer hours and devote more of their free time to work should not go unremarked upon. But they're just so darn fun! Who'd ever want to go home to their regular old house that doesn't have a slide or a single rock climbing wall when you could stay at work just a little longer and play? Especially when there's a nap pod on the other side of the bullpen.